Car accidents can have many tragic outcomes. Drivers and passengers can suffer broken bones, soft tissue wounds, and even brain injuries. Some car accidents cause a fire. A fire can start from a broken fuel line, damage to the gas tank, sparks from the engine, or a vehicle defect or poor maintenance.
Whatever the cause, a fire that breaks out from a car accident can lead to severe injury or death. When a vehicle fire occurs, occupants are exposed to harmful toxic steam and smoke. If they are trapped in the car, the damages can be particularly devastating. The longer they are exposed to the smoke, the worse the outcome.
Illnesses and disorders caused by toxic smoke are known as inhalation injuries. According to the National Fire Protection Association, up to 80 percent of deaths and illnesses in a fire occur due to inhalation injuries and lack of oxygen rather than from burns. That is why a person should always try to escape from a burning car if they can.
Why Is Smoke Inhalation So Dangerous?
Smoke inhalation can cause many problems within the body from the chemical irritants found in smoke. These toxic irritants include ammonia, chlorine, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen chloride, which are all known as chemical asphyxiants.
Chemical asphyxia, or suffocation, occurs when a person inhales a substance that cuts off their body’s oxygen supply by either replacing oxygen in the blood or disrupting oxygen delivery in the blood. Common smoke inhalation effects include:
- Organ and tissue damage: Smoke inhalation cuts off a person’s oxygen supply, often to the cellular level. When that happens, organs can shut down or become grossly impaired due to chemical irritation. Lungs are especially vulnerable to toxic smoke. The body’s tissues may also be compromised as they need oxygen to remain healthy and viable.
- Breathing and respiratory problems: Toxic substances in a fire almost always affect a person’s upper airways and respiratory tract, causing swelling, airway collapse, and the inability to breathe.
- Brain damage: A car fire can deprive the brain and blood of needed oxygen, resulting in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or severe brain damage.
- Chemical burns: Chemicals can cause critical injury and disfigurement to a person’s nostrils, skin, mouth, and mucous membranes.
What Are the Symptoms of Smoke Inhalation?
Smoke inhalation is almost always assumed when a person has been exposed to fire in a car accident. Common signs and symptoms of toxic smoke inhalation include the following.
- Cough: Suppose a person has not been rendered unconscious after an accident. In that case, coughing is one of the first signs of smoke inhalation. Smoke irritates the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, causing increased mucus production that leads to coughing.
- Hoarseness: The person’s upper airways or vocal cords that have been exposed to smoke will cause their voice to become hoarse. Hoarseness is a sign that fluids are collecting in the upper airway, causing a blockage.
- Breathing problems: Smoke can cause direct injury to the respiratory tract, leading to decreased oxygen delivery to the blood or the inability for cells to use oxygen. Chemicals from smoke can burn the lungs, while swelling and airway collapse can cause breathing issues.
- Eye irritation: Smoke can cause eyes to become red, stinging, and irritated. There may even be burns on the cornea.
- Skin changes: Exposure to toxic smoke can turn a person’s skin color bluish, red, or make the skin paler.
- Headache, nausea, vomiting: Even the slightest exposure to harmful smoke can lead to a minor or severe headache, nausea, and vomiting.
- Chest and throat soreness: Chemical toxicity can be felt in the throat and lungs. It may hurt to swallow and breathe normally.
- Changes in mental functioning: Chemicals in smoke and low oxygen levels in the blood can cause dizziness, seizures, fainting, confusion, inability to process information, and even lack of consciousness or coma.
How Are Inhalation Injuries Treated?
After an accident, some injuries are readily apparent, such as head trauma, broken bones, cuts and abrasions, and more. Inhalation injuries may be harder to detect, especially if the person is unconscious.
Emergency medical personnel that arrive on the scene will often begin CPR and other emergency measures. After being transported to a hospital or seeking care on your own, a medical professional will look for smoke inhalation damage if they know a fire was involved in the accident.
Depending on the amount and type of exposure, a treatment plan for smoke inhalation can be moderate, short-term, or long-term and aggressive. Sometimes, further complications occur after an initial diagnosis, so it is always imperative that you seek medical help whenever new symptoms appear. The smoke inhalation treatment plan may include the following treatments.
Testing and Imaging
The first step is for a health care professional to diagnose the type and severity of your smoke-related trauma. They will do this through a variety of tests, assuming you are conscious and able. These could include blood testing, X-rays, and other imaging and oxygen level measurements.
Oxygen therapy is standard with smoke inhalation patients. Oxygen can be administered through a mask, nose tube, or intubation, which is when a breathing tube is inserted into the throat and airways while the patient is kept unconscious.
Hyperbaric therapy occurs in a pressurized environment, such as a special chamber. It involves breathing pure oxygen with increased air pressure.
Bronchodilators and anticoagulation medications can help a person manage their symptoms, such as breathing troubles and coughing. These are often used long-term.
A doctor will almost always require a person suffering from smoke inhalation to be monitored in the hospital for a certain period of time.
A person’s injuries from smoke inhalation can be severe enough to require long-term oxygen supplementation through a tank or other devices used at home.
Wheelchairs or Other Medical Equipment
A person’s injuries from smoke inhalation may affect their ability to move and function well outside of a hospital bed. A doctor will prescribe the needed equipment to help the person function in daily life.
A person may need physical or occupational therapies to help them regain skills and abilities lost due to smoke inhalation.
Special Nursing or Home Care
When smoke inhalation damages are severe enough, a person may not be able to live without help. They may be required to live in a nursing home or other out-of-home care setting or need to hire home care.
Can I Be Compensated for a Smoke Inhalation Injury?
While your medical and vehicle insurance may cover some of your injury costs, keep in mind that insurers are in the business of making money. They do that by offering the least amount possible to cover your bills and other costs. They may even deny paying or use other known tactics.
It may be a good idea for you to consult with a lawyer after a car accident. They can tell you precisely what you can sue for and help you with negotiations. They will even take the case to court if they cannot reach a fair settlement.
You may be able to collect some or all the following damages:
- Medical bills, including surgeries, hospital stays, therapies, treatments, medications, equipment, and specialized care.
- Lost wages and loss of earning potential, either short-term or long-term.
- The physical pain you have endured because of the accident.
- Mental anguish, such as depression, fear, and anxiety problems.
- Loss of enjoyment of hobbies, everyday pursuits, and similar activities.
- Loss of consortium, which is compensation for the impact of your injury on your spouse or partner.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Advocate for Clients With Accident-Related Inhalation Injuries
A car accident can be devastating and lead to catastrophic injuries. If you have an inhalation injury because of a collision, our skilled Virginia Beach car accident lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC can help you. Contact us online or call us at 757-LAW-0000 today to set up a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we represent clients throughout Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore, Virginia. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.